HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc669-71 12.34 pm
Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ban the advertising of high fat, high sugar and high salt content food and drinks during pre-school children's television programmes and related scheduling.

Since I introduced my Bill to ban all food and drink advertising to pre-school children in May this year, I have been overwhelmed by massive public and professional support. Indeed, 95 per cent. of students from King Edward VI college in my constituency—some of whom are in the Gallery today—support me, so I have the support of young people as well.

Some 89 organisations now back my campaign. They include the National Heart Forum, the Food Commission, the National Union of Teachers, Diabetes UK, the Women's Institute, the National Consumer Council, the British Heart Foundation and the National Obesity Forum. Those well-respected organisations, which have a wide range of members, back my campaign because they recognise that we have a serious health problem, with increasing childhood diabetes and obesity, both of which can kill. The organisations backing my campaign to ban food and drink advertising to children recognise that the continuous advertising of high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt content food and drink to children has an impact on their health.

Early this year, I took my concerns to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, whose Department has the powers to prevent the products from being ruthlessly targeted at children via television. She asked me to give her more evidence. I gave her more evidence. She asked me to wait for the results of the findings of the Food Standards Agency. The FSA has published its report, "Does Food Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence". It reviewed 118 research papers and concluded that advertising to children does have an effect on their preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption.

To put it simply, children are subjected to repeated imagery and carefully constructed memorable jingles. The message is that the products are fun and make children happy. Children repeatedly see adverts in which happy children are being made happy by happy parents giving them food and drink products that are high in fat, high in salt and high in sugar. For example, 89 per cent. of cereals advertised during children's television programmes are very high in sugar.

The sugar content of Quaker Sugar Puffs is a massive 49 per cent. It is 39 per cent. in Kellogg's Cocoa Pops, 40 per cent. in Kellogg's Frosties and 40 per cent. in Nestlé Golden Nuggets. The FSA guidelines say that products that are 10 per cent. sugar are high in sugar. The World Health Organisation recently suggested that people should restrict sugar to 10 per cent. of their diet for the sake of their health, yet the powerful food and drink industry is allowed ruthlessly and cynically to target small children with products that contain an amount of sugar way above what is good for their health.

It is worth remembering that children are encouraged to eat cereals every day. The fast food industry also ruthlessly targets children with adverts that encourage them to want to make multiple visits to a particular chain of fast food outlets to collect parts of a toy. Parents are not made aware of the fact that, for example, a birthday party meal, which is indisputably targeted at children, contains 60 per cent. of the maximum total recommended daily intake of saturated fat, nearly 80 per cent. more sugar than the maximum total recommended daily intake and more than one day's full recommended intake of salt. That is just in one meal.

The amount of salt a child should eat depends on the child's age. A two or three-year-old should take in about 2 g daily and a four, five or six-year-old about 3 g. It is therefore shocking that a product such as Golden Vale Cheese Company Attack-a-Snack Cheestring chicken wrap—yes, that is its name—which is repeatedly advertised on children's television, contains 4 g in a single portion, more than a child should have in a whole day.

I began by saying that I have received massive support for my proposals from teachers, health professionals, parents, colleagues and young people, yet the food and drink industry and the advertising industry continue to fail to recognise that there is a problem. They say that advertising high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt content products designed specifically for children has no detrimental effects on children's health, yet the overwhelming evidence suggests the contrary.

The advertising industry says that this is not its problem, that advertisers are just a convenient target for politicians such as myself. The industry says that obesity and childhood diabetes are due to children not taking enough exercise. I certainly agree that regular exercise is vital to children's health, but so too is what they put in their mouths. Far from being an easy target for politicians, the massively powerful, multinational food and drink industry is able to employ well placed and well paid lobbyists.

As a nation, however, we have to put our children's health first. There are many steps that need to be taken. Children need to take more exercise, and better education is needed for both parents and children. The Department of Health has taken good initiatives in its healthy eating campaign and by providing free fruit in schools. Those initiatives are, however, severely undermined by the spending power of the food and drink industry, which is able to spend up to 100 times more promoting its high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt products than the Government spend on their healthy eating campaigns.

Independent Television Commission guidance has failed to prevent the advertising industry from ruthlessly targeting children, and Ofcom's recent suggestion that the industry should be self-policing would demonstrably be ineffective. What is needed is legislation. We need to ban the advertising of high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt food and drink on children's television. My Bill would do exactly that. However, owing to the procedures of the House or a lack of parliamentary time, my Bill may fail to become law, and I call on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to support the Department of Health initiatives and protect children's health by doing what public opinion is overwhelmingly calling for: banning the advertising of food and drink from children's television scheduling.

I commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Debra Shipley, Linda Perham, Vera Baird, Ann Clwyd, Dr. Brian Iddon, Glenda Jackson, Brian White, Mr. Jim Cunningham, Geraint Davies, Andrew Mackinlay and Angela Eagle.